The number of surviving documents that pertain to Vermeer, his family, and his art is tantalizingly few, yet still greater than those regarding the majority of Dutch painters.While 60 documents contains appraisals and prices of the works of Rembrandt van Rijn, only a handful mention the art of Vermeer. Although historians have only recently fleshed out Vermeer's artistic stature within his society, little is known of his immediate family and almost nothing of Vermeer the man. The following is a concise chronology of the painter's artistic, personal, and civic life.
1573 - Balthasar Claes Gerrits, Vermeer's maternal grandfather, is born in Antwerp. He was about twelve years old when the Spanish captured the town in 1585, and still lived there in 1595 at the time of the birth of his daughter Dingenum, or Digna, Vermeer's future mother. Shortly afterward, he leaves for the northern provinces. It is unknown whether he stayed in Delft on the way, but it is believed he arrived arrived in Amsterdam during the closing years of the century. His son, known as Reynier Baltens, is believed to have been born there around 1600.
1591 - Vermeer's father, Reynier Jansz. (c. 1591–1652), is born at Beestenmarkt number 14 in a house called Nassau, in Delft. His father was the tailor Jan Reyersz., and his mother was Cornelia (also known as Neeltge Goris). Neeltge is active as uijtdraegster, or a second hand goods dealer, liquidating estates of deceased people. Paintings frequently form part of estates. Five months after her husband’s funeral, she marries her neighbour Claes Corstiaensz. who owned the house with The Three Hammers. At the time, Neeltge was about thirty, and Claes was forty-nine.
1597 - The first documentary evidence of Vermeer's ancestors in Delft is a deed witnessed by a notary, dated January; Jan Reyerszoon, a tailor, relinquishes a debt acknowledgment in his possession to someone living outside the town in exchange for cash. Jan Reyerszoon (son of Reyer) is Vermeer's paternal grandfather.
1611 - From 1611 on, Claes Corstiaensz. is always referred to in notarial documents as Master Claes, musician (speelman). In the inventory drafted posthumously for his son Dirck, six musical instruments are listed, presumably inherited from his father by Dirck, who was himself a hatter. These were: a lute, a trombone, a shawn or pipe, two viols, and a cornet. These were likely the instruments Claes played by Claes and his family (the first picture in the inventory of Vermeer's father's effects was of an Italian pipe-player, probably the pipe was the first instrument he learned to play). Vermeer's father's apprenticeship as a silk weaver (kaffawerker), lasts four years, for this was a highly specialized craft demanding a good understanding of design in order to create the complex patterns traditional for that type of cloth.
1615 - Vermeer's father marries Digna Baltens (d. 1670) in Amsterdam. When Digna signs a statement to the effect that she is unmarried at the time, she with a cross. Later she learns to sign her name in full. The marriage is performed on 18 July. Reynier Jansz. was 24 years old.
1617 - With the exception of the stonecutter Anthony Jansz., all the male members of Vermeer's father's family were self-employed craftsmen or shopkeepers, members of guilds, typical products of the lower-middle classes. Their wives kept house and sometimes helped them with their work. When the husband died, his widow would either "take over" or find some other occupation. So, in 1617, after the death of her second husband, Claes Corstiaensz., Neeltge Goris embarked on a career as a mattress-maker, selling feather beds and quilts. On occasion she is also employed to wind up estates, which meant drawing up inventories of the dead person's effects and organizing the sale of his possessions. She also runs lotteries. Burdened by the debts run up by her husband Claes Corstiaensz. between 1611 and 1615 (for reasons that are unclear), she could not permit herself the luxury of idleness. Albert Blankert, John Michael Montias, and Gilles Aillaud. Vermeer. (Woodstock and New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2007), 21.
1619 - Vermeer's maternal grandfather, Balthasar Gerrits, was originally apprenticed to some trade that involved metalwork, probably clockmaking, as that was the occupation he returned to late in life. In 1609, he is working as a clerk, or "merchant's assistant." His skills as a clockmaker and metal-worker and this expertise led him—and his son Balthens—into deep trouble in the early 1620s in The Hague, where he worked as the diemaker for a group who were arrested for counterfeiting German coins. The senior parties in this scam were beheaded. Balthasar Gerrits and Reynier Balthens were interrogated by the authorities but gave evidence against their employers and were eventually released without charge; whether they were ever free of nightmares after their close brush with the executioner's sword is doubtful.
1620 - Vermeer's father, Reynier Jansz, and his mother Digna Baltens, baptize Gertruy, their first child, in Delft.
c. 1627–1630 - Reynier Janz., who from 1652 onwards calls himself "Vos,"Vos means fox in Dutch. rents an inn on the Voldersgracht in Delft called The Flying Fox (De Vliegnde Vos). The reason for the change of name is unknown.
1625 - On July 6 and August 4, it appears from notarial acts that Vermeer's father, together with two other men, wound the soldier Willem van Bylandt in a brawl in the inn Mechelen. While Reynier Vos is still a fugitive, he and his wife, Digna, and the mother of one of the two other perpetrators settle this matter by the payment of blood money to Van Bylandt.
1629 - On February 9, Reynier witnesses a document in which, for the first time, he is identified as a "herbergier" ("innkeeper").
1631 - Reynier Janz. Vos becomes a member of the Guild of Saint Luke as a "Master Art Dealer" (Mr. Constvercoper). This title allows him to buy and sell paintings in Delft. He pays six guilders, the entry fee for a Delft citizen.
1632 - Vermeer, Reynier's second son, is baptized as "Joannis" in the Nieuwe Kerk on October 31.
1640 - On 6 September, Reynier Jansz. residing at Voldersgracht, declares tha that Barent Batista, the son of the painter Jan Batista (van Fornenburgh), had been living in his house and had departed from Delft in 1631 to become a soldier in the East Indies. The document is witnessed by the painters Pieter van Groenewegen and Balthasar van der Ast. On this occasion, Reynier Jansz., for the first time as far as is known, added the last name "Vermeer" to his signature. The reason for the change in name is unknown. The marriage between Reynier Bolnes and Maria Thins, future mother-in-law, comes to an end. The divorce is complicated due to furniture and paintings that belonged to the Thins family as their heritage were part of the estate. Maria's brother Jan and her sister Cornelia, demand these items through a court judgment. Following the order, the belongings are divided into three portions and allocated by drawing lots.
1641 - Reynier Janz. Vos buys a large, heavily mortgaged house and inn known for the past hundred years as "Mechelen," after the Brabant city, for 2,700 guilders on the Grote Markt (Great Market), in Delft. The establisment has seven hearths. The interest amounted to almost as much as the rent for the Flying Fox. The advantage, however, was the inn's superior location. From the records we have, it seems that Reynier Janz.'s customers in Mechelen were mainly drawn from the respectable middle classes: a captain's wife, a military contractor (an acquaintance of his stepbrother Reynier Baltens), and a doctor. Undoubtedly, Reynier had risen in the word since the street brawling of his earlier years Presumably ,the location of Mechelen provided a natural meeting place for artists and collectors. The landlord is in an ideal position to act as middleman between the painters and their clients. Most likely, he buys pictures speculatively and displays them on the walls in the hope of making a sale at some future date. Nonetheless, Vermeer's father's endeavor to juggle the roles of innkeeper and art dealer apparently did not lead to wealth. This could have been due to his customers' delinquencies or their need for prodding to settle their tabs—as in 1651, Reynier van Heuckelom was in arrears by 126 guilders for room and board, an amount surpassing the yearly interest on the inn's mortgage
Three days before the acquisition of Mechelen by Vermeer's father, Jan Thins, the brother of Vermeer's future mother-in-law Maria Thins, buys a house on the Oude Langendijk in Delft three days earlier. In this house Vermeer will keep his studio and spend much of his adult life.
1647 - Vermeer's sister, Gertruy, marries Antony van der Wiel, a Delft ebony worker and frame-maker. Gertruy is twenty-seven and her brother Johannes is fifteen. The married couple goes to live in a house called "De Molen" in the Vlamingstraat, east of the Nieuwe Kerk.
1652 - On October 12, Vermeer's father, Reynier Janz. Vos, is buried at the age of 61 in the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft.
1653 - On April 5, Vermeer registers his intentions to marry Catharina Bolnes, the youngest daughter of Maria Thins and Reynier Bolnes. The night before, the well-known Delft painter Leonard Bramer and a certain Captain Melling declare that Maria Thins refuses to give her consent in writing but she states that "she would suffer the (marriage) banns be published and would tolerate it." On April 20, Johannes and Catharina Bolnes get married in Schipluiden, a small village an hour's walk south of Delft. On April 22, Vermeer and the successful painter Gerrit ter Borch from Deventer co-sign a document in Delft. On December 29, Vermeer is registered as a member of the Guild of Saint Luke, in Delft. He pays just one and a half guilders out of the total master's fee of six guilders.
1654 - On January 10, Vermeer serves as witness to a notarized obligation of debt and is described as "master painter."
1655 - On December 14, Vermeer and his wife co-sign a document, positioning themselves as secondary sureties and co-principals for a debt left by the late Reynier Jansz. Vos. The document is signed "Johannes Reijninjersz Vermeer," with "Vosch" crossed out. Vermeer signs and dates his Saint Praxedis, presumably, a copy of a work by the Italian artist, Felice Ficcherelli. During the devastating Delftse Donderslag on 12th October, 1654, Mechelen suffered damage.
1656 - Vermeer pays off the remaining part of the master's fee to the Guild of Saint Luke and signs one of his earliest known works, The Procuress. One year after the Delftse Donderslag, the States of Holland pay compensation to Vermeer’s mother Digna, who runs the inn after her husband’s death and was still living there at the time of the devastating gunpowder disaster. Redazione, "Two new facts about Johannes Vermeer's life discovered," Finestre sull'Arte, November 3, 2023, accessed November 3, 2023.
1657 - In the initial draft of her will, Maria Thins bequeaths to Vermeer's daughters jewels and the sum of three hundred guilders to Vermeer and Catharina. Vermeer takes a loan of two hundred guilders from Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven. This affluent Delft citizen later buys at least 19 of Vermeer's paintings. When signing documents, Vermeer switches from using the old Gothic script to the more modern Roman script. On June 27, the inventory of the Amsterdam-based art dealer Johannes de Renialme lists "een graf besoeckende van der Meer..." (a Visit to the Tomb by Van der Meer [Vermeer]).
1660 - On December 27, "A child of Johannes Vermeer [living] on the Oude Langedijck" is buried in the Old Church (Oude Kerk), in Delft. This is the earliest evidence that Vermeer and his family were residing in Maria Thins' home in the Papists' corner of the city.
1661 - In December, another of Vermeer's children is burried the Oude Kerk, in a grave bought by their grandmother Maria Thins.
"All that we can say is that everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it carrying a burden of obligations contracted in a former life; there is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be kind and thoughtful, even to be polite, nor for an atheist artist to consider himself obliged to begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little to his worm-eaten body, like the patch of yellow wall painted with so much skill and refinement by an artist destined to be for ever unknown and barely identified under the name. Vermeer."Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu, vol. 1, Swann's Way, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff (Paris: Grasset and Gallimard, 1913).
1662 - Vermeer is appointed one of the headmen (hoofdman) of the Guild of Saint Luke. This appointment is often seen as a testimony of the high esteem in which the artist was held at the time. However, at that time many painters resident in Delft had left for the more prosperous Amsterdam. On May 15, Maria Thins revises her testament initially made on 18 June 1657. In addition to bequests to her daughter Catharina, her goddaughter Maria, and Vermeer's other children, she grants her son-in-law Vermeer an annual sum of 50 gulden..
1663 - Balthasar de Monconys, a French diplomat and art connoisseur, visits Vermeer in Delft. He notes in his diary that he was unable to see any paintings there and had to visit the house of a baker, where he saw a painting with a single figure."In Delft I saw the Painter Vermeer who did not have any of his works: but we did see one at a baker's, for which six hundred livres had been paid, although it contained but a single figure, for which six pistoles would have been too high a price in my opinion."(Journal de voyages de Monsieur De Monconys, II, Lyon, 1666, 149.) De Monconys remarks that the price paid was far too high. The baker may be Heindrick van Buyten, a well-to-do baker and prominent citizen of Delft, who owned at one time or another at least three paintings by Vermeer. On November 12, Vermeer is listed as an outgoing (second-year) headman of the Guild of Saint Luke in Delft. The incoming headman is Anthonie Palamadesz, a renowned Delft painter known for his interior scenes.
1664 -Vermeer's first son, Johannes, is born? In the death inventory of English sculptor Jean Larson, who resided in The Hague, is listed "a head by Vermeer." In the In the Schuttersboek (Shooters' Book) of the Delft Civic Guard, Johannes Vermeer is listed as member of the first squadron of the oranje vendel commanded by Abraham Coeckebacker. The acclaimed Delft painter (a family friend of the Vermeers) Leonaert Bramer, had been a sergeant in the same company and a member of a select group known as the Brotherhood of Knights (broederschrappe). Two other important figures in the life of Vermeer had played a role in the Delft Civic Guard. The first was Captain Teding van Berckhout, who headed the second banner of the third quarter. Van Berckhout had once noted in his personal diary a visit to Vermeer's studio.Van Berckhout was the well-connected scion of a prominent Hague regent family but preferred life in Delft, with which his family had ties: one of his aunts had been the wife of Admiral Maarten Tromp. His mother was from Delft's van Beresteyn brewing family, and his father Adriaen, a member of the Council of State of the province of Holland, was commemorated by an ornate plaque in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. Van Berckhout moved there the following year, becoming an active member of the town council and naturally an acquaintance of Van Bleyswijck. He served as harbourmaster of Delfshaven in 1676 and as a Delft alderman and burgomaster in a number of the following years Although Van Berckhout's entry was very brief, it proves that the Delft artist enjoyed a certain fame since he was referred to as the "celebrated painter named Vermeer." He showed van Berckhout examples of his art, which made the diarist think that 'the most extraordinary and most curious part consisted in the "perspective."A fuller analysis would have been welcome, but that was all; at least, unlike Monconys, van Berckhout did not go away disappointed. One of the pictures he saw would have been The Art of Painting, which never left Vermeer's family during his lifetime.In any case, his membership probably brought him into contact with rich collectors and potential clients.
1665 -In their will, Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria de Knuijt bequeath five hundred guilders to Vermeer. This kind of a bequest is very unusual and presumably testifies a close relationship between Vermeer and Van Ruijven. Vermeer's wife is excluded in he predeceases her. An average Dutch house might cost one thousand guilders. On 15 January, from an act of 25 November 1676 it emerges that on January 13, 1665, Maria Thins is appointed guardian of the estate of her troublesome son, Willem Bolnes
1667 - Vermeer's name is mentioned in Dirck van Bleyswijck's Description of the City of Delft as the successor of the deceased painter Carel Fabritius. Maria Thins empowers Vermeer to collect various debts owed to her and to reinvest the money according to his will and discretion. On July 10, another of child of Vermeer is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk, in Delft. in 1667. Vermeer witnesses a legal document in which he was referred to as "Johannes van der Meer, artful painter," the son signed "Johannes Vermeer."
1668 - Vermeer paints, signs, and dates the The Astronomer.
1669 - Vermeer paints, signs, and dates The Geographer. Vermeer's mother, Digna, leases Mechelen for three years to a shoemaker, Leendert van Ackerdijck, for 190 guilders a year. This was only 65 guilders more than Digna's annual payments for mortgage interest. (Van Ackerdijck got free use of the inn's beer and wine racks and promised to repair at his own expense any breakage or damage). Pieter Teding van Berckhout, a young scion of a landed gentry family of The Hague, visits Vermeer twice and writes his impressions in a diary. Vermeer and his wife bury another child on Juy in the Oude Kerk.
On 13 February, Vermeer's mother, Digna Balthens is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk. Vermeer's sister, Gertruy Reynier Vermeer, follows her mother to the grave on 2 May. So the two women who had brought up Vermeer—his sister and his mother—are suddenly gone. On July 13, Vermeer inherits Mechelen from his mother.
1670 - On October 28, Vermeer is again appointed to be one of the two representatives of the painters among the headmen of the Guild of Saint Luke, with Louis Elsevier being the other. The Guild's artists were somewhat thinned out from its glory days twenty years before. But, buffeted by life's losses, Vermeer may have been glad of his guild duties. Regarding the division of Vermeer's parents' estate, the lawyer Frans Boogert first writes Vermeer's name as "Johannes van der Meer" before crossing out "van der Meer" and writing above it "Vermeer." There were or recently had been quite a few other van der Meers in Delft including an apothecary, a physician, and a schoolmaster. Several artists in the United Provinces had that surname, and some of them even had the same Christian name as Johannes, which would cause confusion.
1671 - On October 28, Vermeer is listed as the outgoing headman of the Guild of Saint Luke in Delft, along with the incoming headman Cornelis de Man.
1672 - Vermeer leases Mechelen to an apothecary for six years. Vermeer travels with two other headmen of the Guild of Saint Luke to The Hague in order to appraise a collection of disputed Italian paintings. They testify before a notary that the works are "not only not outstanding Italian, but to the contrary great pieces of rubbish and bad paintings."
1673 - On June 27, another child of Vermeer is buried in the family grave, purchased by Maria Thins, in the Oude Kerk. On July 21, Vermeer sells two bonds totaling eight hundred guilders, one of which, worth 500 guilders, is in the name of Magdalena Pieters (1655–1682), daughter of Pieter Claesz van Ruijven, from whom Vermeer had borrowed money.·In September, Vermeer appears before the magistrates of Gouda to collect part of an inheritance coming from an aunt of Maria Thins.
1674 - Vermeer's name appears on the register of the Delft militia. According to a Delft edict of 1655, Schutterij (the Dutch word for guardsmen) were "the most suitable, most peacefully and best qualified burgers or children of burgers." Vermeer's oldest daughter, Maria (c. 1654–after 1713), marries Johannes Gillisz Cramer, silk merchant, and lives with her husband on the Verwersdijk. As far as the archives tell us, their first child, a girl, is not born until 1683 and was named after her mother, Maria Vermeer, and great-grandmother. On May 4, Vermeer travels to Gouda to settle some of his late father-in-law's affairs.
1675 - In the last document in which Vermeer's name appears he was alive, the artist borrowed one thousand guilders from Jacob Rombouts in Amsterdam, using as collateral a restricted obligation under the custody of the Orphan Chamber of Gouda for 2,900 guilders, to the usufruct of which Maria Thins was entitled.
1675 - On July 20, Vermeer borrows 1,000 guilders in Amsterdam. Vermeer is buried in an "Own Grave" (Eijgen Graff) in the Oude Kerk, which, according to the burial register, took place on December 1, 1675. The grave was owned by his mother-in-law Maria Thins. Several of Johannes and Catharina’s children were also buried in the same plot before Vermeer’s death. A recently discovered register regarding the people buried in the Delft's Oude Kerk notes that fourteen pallbearers carried Vermeer's coffin and that the church bell tolled once for him. This indicates Vermeer’s funeral would have required a significant financial expenditure. Bas van der Wulp, of “Erfgoed Delft,” Delft’s cultural heritage department who made the discovery, explains that such a ceremony was clearly luxurious, adding that although he had read about funerals in Delft with twenty pallbearers, these were reserved for members of the town's elite.Admin_l6ma5gus, "Johannes Vermeer was Given a Funeral with 14 Pallbearers and Bells Rnging, According to an Archive" Pledge Times, January 18, 2023, accessed November 3, 2023. It was initially hypothesized that the painters' guild might have financed the artist's elaborate funeral. However, upon examining the funeral expenditures of other artists, none seemed to match the expenses attributed to Vermeer's interment. Vermeer's brother-in-law, Willem Bolnes, Maria Thins' troublesome son who passed away one year later in 1676, received a funeral of comparable extravagance. When Maria Thins died in 1680, she was honored with a similar ceremony, distinguished only by two tolls of the bell instead of the single toll afforded to her son-in-law.Van der Wulp posits that Thins likely paid for her son-in-law's funeral, considering advancing the costs to her daughter, as they were probably not yet aware of the financial difficulties Vermeer faced at the time.
1676 - On February 20, and inventory of movable objects from Vermeer's estate is compiled. Anthonie Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope and famous scientist from Delft, is appointed executor of Vermeer's estate. On January 26, Catharina Bolnes sells two of her late husband's paintings to the baker Hendrick van Buyten (1632–1701 ) to settle a debt of 617 guilders 6 stuivers. On September 30, the Lords Aldermen of Delft appoint Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), inventor of the microscope, executor of Vermeer's estate. Considering her dire financial situation due to the war with France, Catharina Bolnes seeks letters of cession for her creditors from the high court of Holland and Zeeland. Her request is granted. On March 25, Vermeer's brother-in-law Willem Bolnes is buried..1677 - On February 2 and 5, Leeuwenhoek appears before the Lords Aldermen of Delft to settle Vermeer's debt with Jannetje Stevens, who then transfers back to Vermeer's estate twenty-six paintings in the possession of Jan Coelenbier.Coelenbier returned the paintings to Leeuwenhoek, who planned to auction them. Under the agreement, Jannetje was to receive 342 guilders—100 less than she had claimed—from the estate. Moreover, the estate was to obtain the first 500 guilders from the auction proceeds to presumably repay Coelenbier. A public sale of the paintings is planned. Maria Thins notifies that The Art of Painting ("de Schilderconst") was transferred to her by her daughter and that the painting should not be included in the sale of Vermeer's estate in the Guild Hall of Saint Luke. Leeuwenhoek denies the legality of the transfer. The auction takes place in the Guild Hall, March 15. No records of the sale survive.
1680 - On December, 27, after Maria Thins' burial, her daughter Catharina inherits her assets.
1682 - Following the death of his wife and daughter of Vermeer's patrons, Maria de Knuijt and Pieter van Ruijven, the Delft printer Jacob Dissius draws up an inventory of his possessions; at this time he owns 19 Vermeers.
1684 and 1687 - Catharina Bolnes, widow of the painter, living in Breda, receives financial support from the Weeskamer of Gouda.
1685 - The estate of Jacob Abrahamsz. Dissius and his late wife, Magdalena van Ruijven, which included twenty paintings by Vermeer, is divided between Jacob Dissius and his father, Abraham Dissius.
1687 - While visiting her daughter Maria Vermeer and Johannes Cramer at their "Blue Hand" residence on Verwersdijk, Catharina passes away in Delft. She is given her Last Sacraments on December 30 and is buried three days later. Her relatives could afford to pay twelve pallbearers. She leaves five children under twenty-five years of age who were still unmarried.
1688 - On October 25, Jan Vermeer III, the grandson of the painter, is baptized
1690 - Joannes Cramer, Vermeer's son-in-law, tries in vain to obtain (on dubious grounds) money from the Orphan Chamber of Gouda.
1696 - On May 16, 134 paintings from unnamed sources are auctioned at the Oude Heeren Logement (Old Men's Lodging House) in Amsterdam, perhaps in the building's courtyard where auctions were usually held. Included are twenty-one paintings by Vermeers that brought a total of 1,503 guilders and 10 stuivers, then a substantial sum, enough to buy a comfortable house. The auction lists more than ninety other paintings, some of which fetched higher prices than Vermeer's works, although we do not know whether all the paintings in the catalog came from Dissius. Included were three church interiors by Emanuel de Witte). In the seventeenth century, Vermmer's work is appreciated by a relatively small circle of connoisseurs. The Dissius auction represents one of the few contemporary events that provides insight into the ownership and valuation of Vermeer's paintings shortly after his death in 1675.
1699 - Vermeer's Allegory of Faith is sold for 400 florins.
1781 - Joshua Reynolds mentions The Milkmaid as among the paintings he saw during a visit to the Netherlands.
1789 - Andreas Bonn, professor of anatomy in Amsterdam, refers to Vermeer as one of the most remarkable of Dutch painters. In his lengthy discourse, Bonn praised a number of Dutch artists, allotting a few words to each, when he came to depictions of "Companies of burghers" ("burger-gezelschappen") he mentioned "the satin and velvet costumes of ter Borch and Metsu; the elaborate figures and neat accessories of Dou, Slingelandt, van Mieris senior and junior, and the Delft van der Meer."
1800 - Christiaan Josi, a Dutch art dealer and engraver, praises the outstanding merits of Vermeer's painting.
1822 - Vermeer's View of Delft is acquired by the newly opened Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Walking gloomily around the house, looking through doorways from room to room, Vermeer would have encountered some of his many children and been aware of the strenuous efforts Catharina was making to keep them properly fed and clothed. He would have seen on the walls the pictures that his mother-in-law owned and that he had used as part of the scenery in his own paintings. He might have stopped to look at The Art of Painting. We don't know why he collapsed, but collapse he did, a week after St Nicholas's Day. Did he have an infection, for which the apothecary's remedies proved useless? An "extreme cold"…? An epileptic fit? Acute melancholia which brought on a depression in which he simply submerged? Or something else?
Some of the putting-on of paint in his later pictures seems uncharacteristically coarse, and drink was as close as the nearest tavern, or indeed as the nearest apothecary's, to quell any sense of failure as a head of family or as an imperfect painter and thereby injure control of the brush. Catharina had her own ideas, though we may have to read between the lines of her statement to the High Court a year and a half later to guess what they were. She said that the effect of being unable to trade, being so burdened with children and being without resources had caused her husband to lapse into "decay and decadence." The last word is striking: decadence might suggest an act of volition by the victim, such as an intensive bout of drinking that could have brought on alcohol poisoning and liver failure. On the other hand, it might mean simply a sudden physical decline: did he have a stroke? In any event, Catharina went on, Vermeer had taken his problems so to heart that, "as if he had fallen into a frenzy, in a day and a half he had gone from being healthy to being dead."
It was as simple and as short as that. Was there time to consult him to see if they should call a priest for the last sacraments? The register for the Oude Kerk records the burial on 15 December, 1675 of "Jan Vermeer, art-painter on the Oude Langendijck, in the church, 8 children under age." This "Jan" was a rare written use of what well may have been the name by which Catharina and Maria Thins called him. There were, in fact, ten minor children at this point. Vermeer was forty-thre.
His burial involved a rearrangement of the family grave. The infant who had been buried two and a half years earlier was taken out momentarily while Vermeer was lowered into the grave, and then the tiny remains of the child were put on top of its father's coffin. When the Chamber of Charity next day filled in its report of what had been donated in lieu of Vermeer's best outer garment, there were three succinct words: "Niet te halen" -"Nothing to be got."
From: Anthony Bailey, Vermeer: A View of Delft,New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2001), 203-204.
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